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Israeli Assurances to Use US Arms Legally Are Not Credible

Oxfam and Human Rights Watch provide evidence of Israel's violations of international humanitarian law in Gaza, undermining credibility of assurances for President Biden's NSM-20 arms policy

(Washington, DC, March 19, 2024) – The Biden administration should follow US law and immediately suspend arms transfers to Israel, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam said today. The organizations on March 19, 2024 submitted a joint memorandum to the US government regarding Israel’s violations of international humanitarian law including with US weapons and the blocking of US-funded humanitarian assistance.

“There are good reasons why US law prohibits arms support for governments that block life-saving aid or violate international law with US weapons,” said Sarah Yager, Washington director at Human Rights Watch. “Given ongoing hostilities in Gaza, the Israeli government’s assurances to the Biden administration that it is meeting US legal requirements are not credible.” 

The Oxfam-Human Rights Watch memorandum summarizes a wide range of Israeli violations of international humanitarian law, deprivation of services critical to the survival of the civilian population, and arbitrary denial and restrictions of humanitarian aid since the Hamas-led attacks on Israel on October 7, 2023. Examples include: 

  • Use of US-supplied white phosphorus in military operations in Lebanon and Gaza in October;

  • Indiscriminate or disproportionate strikes on or near several major hospitals between October 7 and November 7, as well as a strike on a marked ambulance that reportedly killed 15 people and injured 60;

  • Systematic blocking of assistance, including aid substantially provided by the US, from reaching about 300,000 Palestinians remaining in northern Gaza;

  • The bombardment and significant destruction of Oxfam and partner organizations’ water infrastructure, rendering much of it inoperable.

Oxfam and Human Rights Watch said in their memorandum that they “are confident that the examples we cite here reflect a broader pattern of conduct than is currently being assessed by the US Government.” 

On March 15, the Israeli government submitted its most recent “assurances” to the US State Department that it is not arbitrarily blocking US humanitarian assistance and not violating international humanitarian law as part of its compliance with National Security Memorandum-20 (NSM-20).

NSM-20 establishes that foreign security partners such as Israel submit assurances to the Departments of State and Defense that they are not arbitrarily blocking US humanitarian assistance and not violating international humanitarian law. The secretaries of state and defense then need to determine whether these assurances are credible. 

“Oxfam has repeatedly sounded the alarm that Israel’s ongoing bombardment and siege, and its actions to prevent access for humanitarian aid, have escalated a catastrophic humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said Scott Paul, associate director for peace and security at Oxfam America. “We have laid out clearly for the Biden administration why any assurances from Israel that they have not delayed, restricted, and impeded aid into Gaza cannot be relied upon. Despite this, the United States has continued to provide Israel with deadly weapons. The time has long passed for the Biden administration to end lethal arms sales to Israel, and we call on them to do so now and work to end the death and suffering in Gaza.”

The joint submission is being released as famine is imminent in northern Gaza and a high risk for the rest of the strip if Israel persists in its hostilities and restriction of humanitarian access. The United States and other countries have resorted to airdrops and a temporary seaport – a product of Israel blocking aid from entering via more effective and safe land routes, the groups said.

Oxfam and Human Rights Watch urged Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin to consider expected future violations when determining the credibility of the Israeli government’s assurances. “Oxfam and Human Rights Watch believe a suspension of arms transfers to Israel is necessary so long as there is an overriding risk that they are being used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, and US law and policy,” the groups said in their report. 


Human Rights Watch, 2024


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